Inmarsat launched their first handheld phone the iSAT Phone Pro in July.
The iSAT Phone Pro was/is heralded as the lower cost satellite phone alternative to some of the higher-priced solutions in the marketplace. That’s the polite way of saying ‘We’re going after Iridium.” Competition is great for consumers, creating more choice, however as I wrote in this column shortly after the launch, there is not much of a comparison between these two satellite phones. Both provide satellite service, yes, but this is a peanuts to cashews comparison. The iSAT Phone works on Inmarsat’s GEO constellation and Iridium runs a LEO system. That means if you are on the wrong side of the building, tree-line or mountain, your iSAT Phone simply will not work.
My experience was that the iSAT phone took longer to turn on/register with the network and while the quality of calls were pretty good, I had to stand in one location and point the antenna in the right direction to get the phone to work properly. Not too good for emergency situations where you may not be able to point to the southeast, northwest or wherever the satellite are.
Frost & Sullivan took on the task of running head to head qualitative and quantitative tests of the iSAT Phone Pro and the Iridium 9555 satellite phones. While testing in three locations and under stricter scientific guidelines than my ‘make a few calls in the back parking lot’, the Frost & Sullivan team did test after test to really see how the two devices performed in the field. Their conclusion is that the 9555 is the superior phone. You can download the report from my website www.globafone.com.
I admit the iSAT Phone Pro is a nifty little phone. Will it threaten Iridium’s core business? I doubt it. When Globalstar comes back to full service in June 2011, I see more of a battle there. For now Iridium is pretty safe. I see iSAT as a god option for users near the equator (where the service will be best) or for seasonal use in northern or southern hemispheres. Thanks for reading!